Cancel culture and why it’s so toxic.
The first time I really thought about calling people in was my first quarter into my Master’s program. My professor had us read an article on calling out culture and calling in.
I think the culture of calling people out or cancel culture has become very popular with the growth of the internet and social media. It is so easy to take a bit that someone says or a tweet and judge them by it. Although I think it is important that we hold others accountable for their words and actions, this culture can be extremely toxic.
What is cancel culture and why is it so toxic?
Call-out culture or cancel culture refers to people shaming other people or companies (and the people that support them) because of a controversial or offensive statement or action they made. Recently this culture has begun demanding the loss of support for a person or a company, people demanding that someone is fired from their job, or calling for someone to get out of school, etc for these actions and statements.
Like, I hate a racist as much as the next guy.. but do we really want them to get kicked out of school and never be able to get a job again? I mean that’s not going to help them NOT be racist anymore.
Social media has amplified call-out culture. It allows public figures to give us a window into their personal lives. Because of this, people now have access to everything they need to dig through someone’s life looking for dirt.. which is kind of toxic on its own.
Calling out is usually done publicly on social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter and can be pretty theatrical. People use this as an opportunity to show how witty or politically correct they are. And we’ve all seen it. The internet doesn’t hold anything back. Sometimes I be reading the comments.. like damn, did ya’ll have to talk about his girlfriend breaking up with him? And how did ya’ll find out about that so quickly?
Cancel culture also, does kind of have a one size fits all. You say or do someone wrong and that’s it, ya canceled. This behavior is toxic because it creates the idea that it’s “us vs them.” It alienates the person and discredits all of the good and hard work they have done up until this point. Although, I do believe some people deserve to be canceled when it’s called for… It’s not always a simple mistake and it ain’t always the first time.
Asam Ahmad wrote an amazing article on Call out culture.
Below I have shared a clip of Former President Barak Obama discussing the problems with cancel culture at his Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago. Obama discussing how cancel culture has created fake activism. This idea that I’m “woke” because I tell other people what they did wrong.
Activism according to Merriam- Websters dictionary is:
a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue
Emphasis on the action part. What Obama is explaining in this video is NOT activism. Sitting in front of your keyboard or phone every day and pointing out others’ mistakes does not make you a better person.
If I tweet or hashtag about how you didn’t do something right, or used the wrong word or verb, then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself, because, ‘Man, you see how woke I was. I called you out’ – Obama
People tend to think call-out culture holds people accountable. But in all actuality, it can be just the opposite. We’re so quick to use labels like racist, sexist, etc. When you call someone out it can cause that person to feel shame, embarrassment, and even get defensive. This can encourage someone to double-down on their ideas and not be willing to hear reason.. which kind of defeats the purpose of calling them out in the first place.
Cancel culture could also discourage others from speaking up in fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. This is especially true because the appropriate language and terminology are always changing. Something that was okay 2 years ago could be seen as not being politically correct anymore. We’re always growing and learning.. well hopefully.
Should someone be held accountable for something today that they did or said 10 or even 2 years ago?
It is intimidating to think that you have to have ALL the answers. Everyone has an opinion and the internet is not afraid to give it to you. It’s easy to sit down on the other side of a Facebook post and cancel someone when you aren’t out there on the front lines.
Cancel culture also should not be used every time someone has an opinion that is different from yours. People are allowed to have different opinions (I know this one is hard for me too).
What we should do instead?
And I understand as allies and social workers we need to do something when someone does something oppressive. But I do not believe this includes becoming the oppressor.
Instead of calling out or canceling someone, we should instead, call them in. This is the act of seeing someone as a person and more than their mistake. There is a much better way. This should happen in person, one on one, to hold them accountable.
Calling someone in allows you to open a dialogue with this person. You can educate them on how their words or actions were offensive and oppressive. This leads to building relationships instead of tearing them down.
“I’ve been cruel at times, hard to work with, and I’m grateful that so many of you in this room have given me a second chance. I think that’s when we’re at our best: when we support each other. Not when we cancel each other out for our past mistakes, but when we help each other to grow. When we educate each other; when we guide each other to redemption. That is the best of humanity“ – Joaquin Phoenix Oscar Speech
We should constantly be holding ourselves and the people around us accountable. I think you need to pay attention to why you’re calling someone out. This should be done with love with the end result of education and growth.
Ahmad wrote about the times When Calling Out Makes Sense here.
What do you think about call out or cancel culture? Tell me in the comments below.
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